• Published 28th Mar 2013
  • 19,768 Views, 1,028 Comments

The Code's Apprentice - Lapis-Lazuli and Stitch



For a thousand years, the Code of Harmony has ruled Equestria, and the Code of Dissonance has sabotaged its works at every turn. Now the war for control over the land will come to a head, and one unicorn's decision may decide the fate of all.

  • ...
45
 1,028
 19,768

Chapter 4 - The Code

~~~The following morning~~~~

Twilight woke up all at once. It was a strange feeling, to go from sleeping to waking in the span of a second or two. Yet, Twilight suddenly found her eyes staring at the ceiling of her loft, sunlight streaming through her windows. Birdsong added a melody to the morning's beauty and Twilight smiled, thinking of her beloved Teacher.

Then, her thoughts caught up to her. She pushed herself off the bed cover and pulled the slim red tome out from under her pillow. Her notes from the previous evening sat undisturbed on the side table nearby. It had not been a dream. The books title still stubbornly declared it to be by the hoof of King Sombra, and the notes still revealed marvels of arcane learning she was only just beginning to understand.

The implications of what she had learned were momentous, they challenged every preconception of history Twilight held. Twilight grasped the letter that had come with the book, half discarded under the study table and unfolded it quickly. "Somber Gaze, huh?" She tapped her chin with her hoof. There was only one solution to this conundrum of faith it seemed. "Well, only one pony in town knows where everypony can be found."

Twilight swung her legs out of bed and pushed herself to the ground, her magic grabbed a spare set of saddlebags and carefully placed the tome and letter alike in them. After a moment of thought, she also pulled down a much worn foal's book, its cover cracked and crazed from centuries of reading, titled "The Tales of Princess Starbright" and quickly placed that in the bag too. Maybe it could help her find the historical truth hidden in the ancient fable.

Twilight trotted down the stairs, grabbing Spike's blanket off of him as she passed . The sleepy dragon suddenly sat up looking bleary and half awake "Huh? Whuzzah? Oh...Mornin' Twi.." He looked ready to fall asleep again when Twilight's magic physically dragged him from his bed, dousing him with a splash of cold water from a nearby basin that sent the purple dragon flailing in midair "GYAAAH! I'm awake! I'm awake!" Twilight set his scaly hide down to the floor, where he half glared at Twilight. "What's got you in a mood today, Twilight?" he groused, looking as grumpy as he ever did when he first woke up.

Twilight paused in mid step and arched an eyebrow at him. "Well." She gestured her hoof around the disaster area her Library had become in just a few short weeks. "I've got important business for the Princess today, Spike - It's going to keep me out of the library for most of the day. This mess needs to be dealt with, are we clear?" She'd put on her best Cheerilee voice - reasonable, but not brooking any more nonsense from the offending student.

For his part, Spike looked around and had the courtesy to immediately look guilty. "A heh-heh...guess it needs a little cleaning, huh?" He scratched the scales on his head sheepishly. "I'll get right on it, Twi...but what in the world do you gotta do that's so important?" He was already picking books up from the tables and examining the titles on the spines.

Twilight paused halfway out the door, turning back to gaze upon her baby dragon. Spike had always been there for her, through thick and through thin. What in Equestria could she tell him? "Research, Spike." Yes, that was the ticket. Research.

~~~~~

Sugarcube Corner was bustling busy when Twilight arrived. Much to her annoyance, customers were streaming in and out of the sweet shop at a respectable pace. A glance at the clock that hung in the window of the shop told her why - It was just past Noon, which must make this the Sugarcube lunch rush. Getting to Pinkie Pie was going to be impossible in this crowd, so she sighed and plopped herself down into one of the seats surrounding the corner cafe. Moving to pull the red book out of her pack, she suddenly froze.

By all rights, this book was so heretical to Celestia's rule it might as well be forbidden. She might get away with a lot as Celestia's student and Element of Magic, but if the wrong pony saw what she was reading...Twilight shook her head. It took only the briefest pulse of her magic to disguise the little book as some incredibly dry and bland research pamphlet on Unicorn social rituals.

A harried looking waiter swung by, pausing to look incredibly relieved at the sight of a single unicorn at the table. Twilight smiled her best, and rose up a hoof. "Just a pot of Mint tea, please." her stomach rumbled in rebellion against that. "Um..and a Daisy sandwich with Hay fries, hold the mayo." The waiter was gone a moment later, and Twilight's eyes went back to the book, scanning the page where she had left off the previous night.

~~~~
"Chapter 2 - Through Passion, we gain Power.

Magic is one of the great mysteries of our world. Countless unicorns over the ages have struggled to explain it, to apply universal laws and truths to its chaotic and often ever changing form. Those who have sworn by Harmony insist that only through the rigid understanding of Magic can we possibly become more powerful with it. This is patently, provably false.

While the understanding of spell forms is vital to success in Magical casting, it is not rigid formula or mathematics that makes Magic powerful. Indeed, we need only draw from Harmony's own belief system to find this to be false. It is the power of Friendship that makes Magic strong.

Friendship is not based on mechanics, but on the heart. Our Passion for the life we share with others is what truly imbues our magic. It is a rarely noticed, but nearly universal truth that a Unicorn's power grows exponentially the more Friendship - or the ultimate expression of Friendship, Love - that they are given and give in return. This is the reason why so many unicorns become more powerful as their works become more well known.

Passion lies at the very center of all of our beliefs. Without it, the world would have no meaning, and we would not have the drive to express our desire, or the power to ensure our Freedom from the chains of Harmony."

~~~~~

"Miss Twilight?"

The waiter's voice startled her out of her reading, and she smiled back - a little embarrassed. The waiter only smiled in return, apparently not terribly concerned. She'd done this before after all. She floated over a hoof-full of bits, and he placed her food and tea on the table. Twilight magicked the teapot up to pour herself a full cup and sipped at it, turning the page with a brush of magic.

Once again, the premise was fascinating and the logic terrifyingly reasonable. This was not the way Dissonance was supposed to be! It was supposed to be evil and unthinking, a madness that demanded more and more power in order to wield that over others around them. Twilight felt vaguely offended by this, as it meant she'd have to reconsider every assumption she had made about the competing philosophy.

She turned the next page, this one describing the means by which Passion could be used to imbue spells. Once again, the research here was dense and complex - the reflection of what had to be decades of research. None of it would be difficult to apply, though the effects might be unpredictable. Twilight bit at her lip, a memory slowly coming back to her from the Crystal Empire.

A door, which could only be opened with a powerful blast of magic imbued with anger and rage. A door that led anypony who looked in it into a seemingly inescapable well of despair. She'd had to wield that magic, though she'd had no idea how to do so. Now it suddenly made sense why she'd drawn on all those emotions. She had been wielding the power of Dissonance, unshielded. Even worse, in her heart she did not wish to admit that the experience had been both terrifying and glorious.

She had not told Celestia that she used that dark magic. She hadn't told anypony, fearing what they might do if they found out. She could not have known then what she'd done. Twilight closed the book after a moment to quietly contemplate it. slowly drinking her tea. Had she already been corrupted? Was the power already seeping through her veins like some kind of dark poison?

"Excuse me, Miss?" the new voice startled Twilight once again out of her thoughts, and she shook her head in vague annoyance. She was woolgathering, Celestia Damnit. She forced herself to focus on the newcomer to her table. A charcoal grey coated unicorn stood across the table from her with a black mane and tail, wearing a pair of circular glasses and a pair of travel-worn saddlebags. "Pardon me if I seem a bit rude, but you would not happen to be Twilight Sparkle, would you?" His voice had a distinctive accent - something like Trottingham but stuffier, as though he'd learned how to speak from some maid of the nobility. He had a kindly looking smile and intelligent eyes, and a book with a stylized eye on the cover as a cutie mark.

Twilight blinked for a moment at his sudden appearance, and was already putting together the pieces. Best to be cautious though. "I am, and you are..?" Her tone lilted up in question, magic quickly closing the book in front of her. She took an absentminded bite of a hay fry, noticing that most of them had already been eaten and wondering when she'd done that.

The scholarly stallion chuckled brightly, and gave her a little courtly bow. "I am Somber Gaze, Miss Sparkle. A Pleasure to make your acquaintance. I see you have my colleagues little discovery with you." He eyeballed the tome, which got yet another startled jump out of Twilight - she barely had time to open her mouth before he tapped his spectacles. "I've enchanted these to see through illusions, Miss Sparkle. It is a nice little advantage when I'm trying to figure out if a rare book is the real deal." He winked cheekily, trying to dispel the little dig. "It's part of my special talent, you see."

He sat down opposite her at the table, folding his hooves in front of him and leaning forward with a lazy sort of smile. Twilight quickly rallied her thoughts and stopped biting her lip like a filly caught with her hoof in the cookie jar. "Do you know what this book is, Mr. Somber?" she asked as quietly as she could, trying not to fidget. Fidgeting would just make her look guilty and that was the last thing she wanted. This gentlecolt looked far too much like one of her disapproving teachers from school who were often exasperated by her desire to know everything.

He nodded once. "Mm, yes. Vigil told me about the rather infamous author and title. He was quite worried it would be snapped up by one of the Princesses agents and sealed away - or worse, burned. He decided the best place to put it would be in the hooves of someone who appreciates the value of a good book." He adjusted his glasses with a hoof, tilting his head to one side. "I am to presume you've started reading it? The subject matter is actually a field I happen to be well versed in, if you had any questions."

Twilight stared at him for a moment, then shook her head in disbelief. "You...study Dissonance? I thought that was restricted materiel for everyone except senior researchers!" A moment later, he was displaying a much battered brass badge, identifying him as a senior researcher for the Canterlot Library. She studied it carefully, but it appeared genuine. That meant she could talk freely in front of him - he had the clearance to know anything she did, at any rate. "Well...yes, I have. I have to admit it really is not what I was expecting."

Somber chuckled richly, and his smile made her relax. Just a scholar, nothing more. Perhaps someone a bit too interested in subjects he should not be meddling with. "Oh yes. Dissonance as a philosophy has become so clouded. Originally, followers of Harmony and Dissonance did not even fight, can you believe that? It was not until the ascendance of Celestia and Luna that things got nasty." He leaned back, eyeballing the teapot meaningfully.

Twilight poured him a fresh cup, to which he smiled. He floated his cup up to sip from it and kept speaking. " Yes, I know what I'm saying runs contrary to what the Celestian temple keepers will tell you, but I have read nearly every available book on the subject. Dissonance was not, and still is not inherently an evil philosophy. It simply believes in a different way of living one's life." he waved his hoof airily. "Not that anyone listens to an old madpony like me."

Twilight frowned for a moment and carefully opened the book. "The chapter titles were particularly strange. 'Harmony is a Lie, there is only Passion.' The first chapter heading has only that, but it sounds like a part of some greater whole." Twilight worried at her lower lip. Was she really having this conversation with somepony that just walked up to her off the street? Was she insane?

Her companion didn't seem to think so - his eyes brightened behind his spectacles. "Aha. Yes, the Code of Dissonance, first written by Sedistic Dissonant. He is the reason we call the philosophy 'Dissonance' now as opposed to 'Disharmony' like the ancient equestrians. "

He sipped at his tea delicately, his voice taking on a lecturing tone. "You'll likely find each line at the head of the chapters within that book. Dissonant was one of the most brilliant musicians of his age. According to what historical records remain, he wrote the Code as a counter-argument to the Code of Harmony. He believed that too much Harmony would eventually lead to the stagnation of creativity and artistic expression."

Somber sighed dramatically, finishing his tea in a single gulp. "Sadly, few of his writings remain - most of them have been destroyed by the government over the years." He gave Twilight a steady, sober look. "I would recommend you do not let anypony else know you possess that tome, Twilight Sparkle. It is unlikely Celestia would allow you to retain it for very long." Twilight was starting to look dazed, and the gentlecolt took on a look of pity for her.

Twilight could only feel her thoughts churn and bubble as the pony scholar stood up, pacing around the table to gently place a hoof on Twilight's shoulder. "I'll be staying at the Red Barn Inn, just off Lunar Lane. Feel free to come and visit if you have more questions to ask. I know all of this can seem terribly overwhelming at first, Miss Sparkle. Yet I think you believe as I do - that the truth is worth the journey." He patted her in a fatherly manner and quickly vanished into the crowds surrounding the restaurant.

Twilight stared at the book for a moment, trying to make sense of that strange encounter. Why in Equestria did she feel like she somehow knew that pony? How had he known her by sight? Well, there was the possibility he had simply asked somepony but still. This was starting to get very aggravating.

Twilight hated being presented with two entirely contradictory sets of facts. Previously, she'd only really had this problem with Pinkie Pie. Having the same thing happen to her very core beliefs? Her very understanding of history itself, and the shape it had taken over the centuries?

Maddening. Frustrating. Twilight had never more wanted to take something heavy and start hitting things with it until the world decided to make sense again. Worst of all, it was a beautiful day outside and Twilight was now obsessed with figuring out what the hay was going on with this book.

She snapped it up off the table, dropping her half-finished sandwich and a couple of bits back onto the plate before storming off down the road. Spike would be busy cleaning up the library, which meant she could probably get privacy in her room. Probably.

She never bothered to look into the alleyways she passed, as within each a hooded figure stood in the shadows, watching her silently pass by - then vanishing.

~~~~~

Battling through the flying dust and debris of Spike in full on housekeeper mode, Twilight shut and locked the door to her loft and placed the offending little red tome on the table. "Okay." She took a deep breath. One world-shattering bit of information at a time. "First - the Code of Dissonance. Celestia help me, it feels weird just to say it." She couldn’t read the whole book in one go, so it was best just to list the thing out.

The work only took a few minutes - scribbling with the quill onto a sheet of paper from the heading of each of the chapters. Once down on paper, Twilight examined it carefully. Obedience was an awfully sketchy word in this context, but the rest of it suggested a meaning not immediately clear to Twilight. The whole of the code seemed very self-centered. It cared only for the one, not the many.

It was a pretty fundamental opposite to the Harmony code. Harmony denied the evils of the world in favor of the harmony of all, Dissonance seemed to believe all the evils of the world could be conquered through strength of self. "Well, that at least explains why Celestia is so adamant against it." It was Intriguing though, a radically different though process could often lead to very different conclusions about the nature of the universe. At the least, it explained why so many Dissonance sorcerers were so highly independent.

She set the page to one side and flipped the book back open to the second chapter, examining the magical formula such as there was anyway, that was contained within its pages. "Alright. If this particular equation is correct, I can dramatically boost the power of my levitation power by focusing on something ... Joyful?" Well that certainly sounded like the kind of mumbo-jumbo tripe she'd read in countless books before, and would usually dismiss without a second thought.

Still, none of them had backed up their assertions with the kind of arcane formula this one had. "Worth a shot, I suppose." She paused, glancing about her room for something she couldn't normally lift on her own. "Hmm..How about..." The bookcase was a tempting target. It was certainly far heavier than anything she could normally lift. Especially stuffed with as many books as it was.

Twilight turned to face the bookshelf, tilting her head. She'd always wanted the thing closer to her bed anyway. Twilight's eyes closed for a moment as she focused on the formula for a moment to set it into her mind before searching her mind for a joyful memory. It didn't take long - she remembered the day Celestia had personally invited her to become her student. Fierce happiness rushed through her body as she linked the memory into her magic. As she started to gather magic into her horn, thoughts of the Code floated into her mind.

Through Passion, I gain Power.

The words thundered through her mind, and for a wild moment, she thought she had lost control. Then, suddenly magic began rushing into and out of her horn in an unstoppable torrent. She felt a ripple seem to flow out of her body and into the floor beneath her, slamming into the earth beneath her tree and spreading out like the waves in a pond. Her eyes glowed with barely restrained magic, bursting into sudden bright green light and sending tendrils of shadow arcing into the room around her.

Her horn lit up with opaque purple energy as she felt power unlike anything else before flooding into her body - the bookshelf wobbled, then lifted up into the air, and hovered across the floor. It set down with an audible thump, right where she'd always wanted it. Just as quickly as it had come, the energy drained out of her limbs and left her panting from the exertion.

She felt as though she had just done the Running of the Leaves twice in the same morning. Yet she was practically giddy, a giggle escaping her lips that sounded just a little crazy. Her voice cracked into the silence of the loft.. "That was...Incredible.." She could hardly describe the incredible feeling the magic had given her then - she had always enjoyed casting spells, but that had been...

Exhaustion took firm hold of her, and Twilight had no further thoughts as she slumped to the ground, unconscious.

~~~~~

Countless miles away, Princess Celestia awoke from her mid-afternoon nap with a sudden start, bolting up from her bed and staring around her in confusion and fear. Somepony had just plucked at the very strings of Harmony and Dissonance, and the power was still reverberating out through the land.

Celestia quickly came to her hooves and strode out onto her balcony, pushing out all of her senses and lighting her horn with the powerful magic’s of Harmony. She tried desperately to feel where precisely it had come from, but the wave was just too powerful to accurately track. That was nearly unheard of. Who in the name of the Goddess had done that?

Only a very few non-alicorns alive had that kind of power potential. One would be Sombra, if he truly had come back from the grave. Right now Celestia truly did not wish to contemplate that possibility until she had proof, but another was Twilight Sparkle. If she was strong enough to be touching the very fabric of the world, perhaps Cadence had been right. It was best to let her remain in Ponyville for a time, so that strength might continue to grow. Still. She would send someone to keep an eye on her - Hmm, but whom could she trust?

"Twilight...be careful. I cannot lose you now." She whispered into the day, returning slowly to her bed as she turned over thoughts of which agent to dispatch to Ponyville. "Not when we are so very close."

~~~~~

Sombra, the Shadow King sat in the nice if slightly small hotel room he had rented for his purposes here in Ponyville. He too felt the shudder as it rippled through the energies of the land, startling the birds out of their trees and leaving those who were sensitive to such things confused and startled.

Sombra also knew there was only one pony that could possibly have done that here in this town. His smile curled up and he allowed himself a short, quiet laugh of triumph. "By Dissonance is she strong. She may even be more powerful than I first thought." Chrysalis would be delighted of course. She was so looking forward to playing with the little one, and her strength being great meant that they could truly treat her as an equal, once she was brought into the fold. That had...delicious possibilities.

Sombra rubbed his hooves together, wishing he'd dare wear his armor. He missed the weight of the iron, and the scraping sound it made when it rubbed against itself. "She is going to be so much fun to turn." He chuckled again, floating the blue crystal goblet from the table over to his lips to taste the delicious local cider. He made a mental note to ensure whoever was responsible for the stuff remained unharmed in the coming conflict. One should always try to preserve the good things of the world.

~~~~~~

In a little office just off of main street in Ponyville, a pony fell to her belly as the massive wave of unseen power struck it's senses. The pony cried out in ecstacy for a brief moment before slumping back down to the ground, panting heavily. "M..mistress..." It gasped out, for it had to have been Twilight Sparkle. Such force! Such power! The pony levered itself into a standing position, feeling its legs shake from reaction.

The power had flooded into the pony, speaking of indescribable joy. She must have cast the first spell in the book. The pony hoped the other agents had remained alert and unharmed by proximity to the event. Sombra had not lied to them - with the kind of power Twilight Sparkle could command, she could break the chains that held all of Equestria back from reaching its true potential.

The pony was thankful that no one would bother it in it's office, as it sank down to the ground, it's hoof going between its legs reflexively as she cried out for the one who would command them. "M-Mistress...T-Twilight...S-sparkle!" as another kind of joy raced through the pony, and it sank to the ground, mind reeling with the possibilities of the world that surely was to come.

~~~~~~

The ripple did not reach the Crystal Empire for some hours. Yet when she felt it, Princess Cadence's eyes went suddenly wide, her pupils shrinking to tiny dots. She was fortunate that she was mostly alone at that moment, her hooves gripping onto the table she sat at with her husband.

Shining Armor himself also seemed to feel it, though much less strongly than she. Shiny had always been sensitive to the currents of Harmony - and that pulse wave had to have been enormously powerful to have reached all the way to the palace here.

Cadence swallowed for a moment, and then took a deep breath. "Sombra. It's got to be." her breathing had gone shallow, and she could feel that stupid cold sweat on her back. Sombra being back meant he'd inevitably come here. That meant he'd come for her, and for his throne.

Shiny shook his head if very slowly. Cadence blinked at him, as he looked somewhat mournfully out the window. "I don’t think so, Cady. I think that was somepony else." He turned back, eyes bright with held back tears. "I think that was Twilight."